Analyzing the movie everyone has seen 1,000 times
Posted February 22, 2012
Following North Carolina's 86-74 victory over rival (yes, rival) NC State on Tuesday night, folks analyzing the game had a pretty easy job to do. Kendall Marshall's career night, the Pack's continued foul trouble, C.J. Leslie finally having success against UNC and 19,000+ fans ready to rumble over a three-day old situation with Karl Hess pretty much told the story.
NC State had a solid plan and executed it fairly well, but North Carolina was just better.
But lost in the post-game discussion of whether or not the Tobacco Road rivals are actually rivals was what the game means for both teams moving forward.
The knee-jerk reaction to NC State's first three-game losing streak of the season wasn't surprising, but the assumption that the Wolfpack are now done without a run to the ACC Championship game in a couple of weeks ignores what is going in the middle of the ACC and nationally.
The bubble is soft, providing NC State ample opportunity over the final two weeks of the regular season to get back on the "Last Four In" side of Joe Lunardi's (Joey Brackets) next NCAA Tournament graphic. Road games against Clemson and Virginia Tech sandwiched around a home rematch with Miami make the path difficult, but it's certainly not impossible.
Depending on what Virginia does in its final three regular season games (UNC, FSU, at Maryland), getting to 10-6 would likely put NC State in the four or five spot heading into the ACC Tournament. If it ends up being five, getting to Saturday with wins over the last place team and Virginia might be enough to get State in the dance.
As for Carolina, Tuesday's win didn't just keep the Tar Heels on track in the race for the regular season ACC title -- it showed the somewhat unlimited ceiling this team has if Kendall Marshall can produce more than just assists.
Thanks to Marshall's career night, Tyler Zeller and John Henson's relative lack of production -- even on an 'off night,' the two still combined for 28 points and 21 rebounds -- went largely unnoticed.
And while expecting performances similar to Tuesday's 22-point outburst would be way too much at this point, a Carolina team that could get 12-15 points from Marshall on a consistent basis late in the season very quickly becomes not only a favorite in the ACC, but nationally. This could easily be a one game wonder situation, but if it's not, watch out.
It would certainly come in handy against teams like Kentucky and Syracuse, both of which have the personnel to bother Henson and Zeller in the post. Perhaps Tuesday's game could be the one that gets Marshall going in that direction. No doubt Roy Williams wouldn't mind.
The outcome of Tuesday night's showdown might have looked like a movie we've all seen 1,000 times (or maybe 12, since that's where UNC's win streak over the Pack now sits), but the way both teams played provided an interesting look ahead to the rest of the season.